You may have noticed that many of my designer jewels, and now, bags and belts, are designed with pearls...yes, they are one of my favorite gems. Researching the history of the La Peregrina Pearl was a fun trip, so much fun that I tried finding where the lost 'sister' of the La Peregrina disappeared to...I think I found the conclusion, but, without facts I can't proclaim that find. I hope you enjoy reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it.
At the time I wrote about it the La Peregrina was currently on loan from Elizabeth Taylor at the Cartier Boutique in Beverly Hills for the 100th anniversary of Cartier in America.
La Peregrina Pearl
One of the world’s most famous pearls, La Peregrina, which translates from “pilgrim” is an appropriate name for a gem with five hundred years of history. The enormous silvery luster oval shaped perfect pearl weighs 203.84 grains. It was purchased for Taylor in 1969 by Richard Burton on Valentines Day for $37,000.00. La Peregrina is one of Elizabeth Taylor’s favorite jewels.
Discovered in the Gulf of Panama by a slave in the early 1500’s La Peregrina traveled to Spain with the conquistador Victor Nunez de Balboa and gifted to the Spanish King Ferdinand V.
A century later Prince Philip II of Spain gave the beautiful pearl to his bride, Mary Tudor of England, on their wedding day. The Dutch painter Hans Eworth painted this portrait of the Queen Mary Tudor wearing the La Peregrina. a year after her coronation. Over the succeeding generations Spanish queens including Margarite and Isabel wore the pearl.
La Peregrina became part of the French Bonaparte Royal family in the 1800’s until Napoleon III was forced to sell the pearl due to financial problems. The buyer was the Marquis of Albercorn. After this, little is known about the pearl’s history until it was sold at auction by Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York in 1969 to Richard Burton.
The auction catalog indicates the weight and perfect description of the La Peregrina as written in Lord Twinings in his “History of the Crown Jewels of Europe”, confirming the authenticity of the historic Peregrina. Similar in shape and size the Peregrina and Pelegrina pearls were often mislabeled throughout history. Twining writes that the La Pelegrana is the ‘sister’ of the pearl which belonged to Karl II and last seen or worn since 1734.
The La Peregrina was in fact the pearl given by Philip IV of Spain to his daughter Maria Teresa. There is a clear distinction in size and shape however. Paleontologist Fischer de Waldheim classified ‘La Pelegrina’ as a spherical pearl weighing 111 ½ grains, nearly half the weight of its big sister.
In 1818, Waldheim claimed the La Pelegrina was in the possession of the Zosima Brothers, Greek antique dealers in Moscow. It was presumably identical with the 27 ½ carat “Reine des Perles” which had been stolen from the Garde Meubles in Paris in 1792. It was in turn stolen from the Zosima Brothers and may have reappeared briefly in a Moscow convent shortly before 1840.
The Reine de Perles is now missing and considered lost. The Yusupov family made false claims that the Yusupov oval shaped pearl which weighs 133.20 grains is the La Peregrina.
According to “The Book of the Pearl”, (London 1908) Mr. Henry Hiller of New York made inquires about the “La Pelegrina” in St. Petersburg and was shown two magnificent oval shaped drop pearls. Tatiana Yusupov claimed that the she bought the La Peregrina from the Bonaparte family, however, the pearl that she bought is an entirely different pearl and is called the Yusupov Pearl.
Elizabeth Taylor’s has fond memories of when she first receieved the pearl:
“I was doing a film in Las Vegas and Richard had just bought the La Peregrina at auction. Ward Landrigan of Sotheby’s had it flown out to us from New York. The pearl was hanging from a very beautiful little tiny pearl and platinum chain necklace. I loved putting it around my neck and feeling the pearl—it was so tactile, I couldn’t stop rubbing it.”
Three years later Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton took La Peregrina along with a painting of Mary Queen of Scots to Cartier in New York with the request to have the pearl reset in a necklace designed similar to the one worn in the painting. The new necklace design is based on the necklace worn in the painting from the sixteenth century that Taylor and Burton loved. Al Durante shuttled between the Cartier New York boutique and the couple’s yacht in London with sketches and worked with Elizabeth for the final design.
Cartier designed and fabricated a pearl choker with rubies and diamondswhich incorporates the La Peregrina as a drop from the original diamond bale.
Elizabeth Taylor loves to tell this story about her famous pearl: “I had recently received the Peregrina on the little chain and I was touching it like a talisman. We had the top floor at Caesar’s Palace and walking back and forth through the room I reached down to touch the pearl and it wasn’t there! I glanced at Richard and thank God he wasn’t looking at me, I went in to the bedroom and buried my head into the pillow and screamed. Very slowly I retraced all my steps in the bedroom in my bare feet. I was walking by the white Pekingese and Richard’s brown Pekingese with all the puppies, it was feeding time and I said “Hi babies, such sweet little babies…” then I noticed one of the puppies chewing on a bone—I thought—we don’t give our puppies bones! I just casually opened the puppy’s mouth and inside was the most perfect pearl in the world—and thank God—not scratched! Richard loved that pearl, anything historic was important to him. This pearl is unique in the world of gems, it’s one of the most extraordinary pieces there is and I knew that he was proud inside. I did finally tell Richard—but I had to wait a week!”
Janet Deleuse, All rights reserved 2010
Photos and quotes from “Elizabeth Taylor, My Love Affair With Jewelry” by Elizabeth Taylor, Simon & Schuster
Mary Tudor image credit: “Girls In Pearls, A History of a Passion in Art and Photography” Claudia Lanfranconi, Merrel PublishersPeregina Photo: Sharon Accardi, Cartier